Big East Conversation: Opening Weekend Takes

Posted by Brian Otskey & Justin Kundrat on March 20th, 2018

With NCAA six teams in action this past weekend, Big East fans have a lot to talk about this week. Big East microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brian Otskey discuss what’s on their minds following a full slate of games.

Brian Otskey: Villanova is now the sole flag bearer remaining for the Big East. The Wildcats are the best team left in the field but their draw isn’t easy. How do you see them matching up with what is clearly the tougher side of the remaining bracket?

Villanova Looked Fantastic Last Weekend (USA Today Images)

Justin Kundrat: Villanova‘s path might have been the easiest when the bracket was announced, but now the Wildcats have one of the more difficult ones. Given how haphazardly this year’s bracket has shaken out, trying to predict future match-ups beyond this round seems futile. They are undoubtedly going to be the favorite in their region to make the Final Four, but each of the teams left in the draw is stylistically different. Against West Virginia, the key will not only be taking care of the ball (although the Wildcats rank 11th nationally in turnover rate), but in the effectiveness of big men Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman. The Mountaineers are an elite shot-blocking group behind 6’8″ Sagaba Konate, which definitely threatens the drive-and-kick nature of Villanova’s offense. That means Paschall and Spellman will have to knock down perimeter shots to drag Konate away from the rim. As for the Elite Eight, Villanova matches up better with a backcourt-dominant team like Texas Tech than it does with Purdue. The Boilermakers’ Matt Haarms was wildly effective against Butler and will be a handful should he face Villanova’s undersized frontcourt. All told, though, Villanova’s versatility and balance should be enough to get them to San Antonio.

BO: Did most people underestimate the impact of Martin Krampelj’s injury on Creighton? Aside from the Villanova win, the Bluejays struggled over the final two months of the regular season and did not play well against Kansas State.

JK: I’m not sure underestimate is the right word. Everyone knew that the impact was severe and there was no replacement for a player like him. At 6’9″, he was the team’s best post defender and rebounder, and he moved around the floor better than most guys his size. It’s no surprise that Greg McDermott loved using him in pick-and-roll sets because he could spread the floor or glide to the rim. The other two bigs on the roster are 6’10” Toby Hegner, who was basically a spot-up shooter, and 6’11” freshman Jacob Epperson, who had flashes of brilliance but couldn’t string together much consistency. So his loss turned what was already backcourt-dominant team into one that overrelied on one or two guards to generate offense.

BO: Ed Cooley is a great face for the Big East but is now 1-5 in the NCAA Tournament. Any concerns there?

Ed Cooley (USA Today Images)

JK: None from me. I’m always impressed with how much Ed Cooley gets from his players, particularly in March. It never seems like Providence has the most talented team on the floor, but they’ve historically done a terrific job of game-planning and exploiting mismatches. Yes, there were some maddening inconsistencies on the offensive end for Providence this season, but I think that’s more a function of Emmitt Holt’s season-ending injury and the personnel of the team than Cooley’s coaching. I certainly can’t be disappointed with five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and 20-win seasons. As so many teams have already shown, winning in this tournament is hard!

BO: Seton Hall pushed Kansas pretty hard in Wichita but made too many mistakes to win despite a fantastic performance from Angel Delgado. How would you rate the Pirates’ season?

JK: I find myself constantly disappointed with Seton Hall. Not even one particular player or Kevin Willard, just the confluence of things and the end result. I’m not upset with the Pirates’ eventual loss to Kansas; they were underdogs and their backcourt was outmatched by a hyper-talented group of wings playing in Wichita. But as the #23 team in the preseason AP poll, I expected them to be a consistent name in the rankings and compete for a Big East crown — but none of that materialized. Part of the blame is attributed to personnel (there never was a true point guard on this team), part to coaching (the offensive sets relied too heavily on isolation plays), but regardless, Seton Hall’s talent vastly overshadowed its performance. With four experience-laden seniors on the roster, this was supposed to be the year and the pieces never seem to fit the puzzle. Now comes a monumental rebuilding effort.

BO: Xavier won so many close games during the regular season. Was Sunday’s collapse against Florida State a unique occurrence and a case of regressing to the mean or was it a sign of an overrated team?

JK: A mixture of both. Based on advanced metrics, Xavier was probably over-seeded on the top line, but this was still a game they should have won. A lot can be blamed on Naji Marshall’s injury, and the recurring foul trouble of JP Macura and Quentin Goodin left the team without a reliable ball-handler for a long period of time. But where on earth was Trevon Bluiett? The 6’5″ senior averaged 19.3 PPG this year and tallied just eight points on 2-of-8 shooting against the Seminoles. The fear with this team was always an over-reliance on its offense and that came to fruition when it squandered away leads both here and against Providence in the Big East Tournament. Bad shooting and turnovers led to countless easy baskets, a classic case of a good offense masking a poor defense.

BO: Purdue is a terrific team but would you say Butler missed an opportunity over the weekend? The Bulldogs seemed capable of winning that game.

JK: It’s undoubtedly a missed opportunity, but it’s hard to deny that Purdue was the better team. Everyone knew that Kamar Baldwin and Kelan Martin would need high-scoring games for the Bulldogs to have a chance, and they did! The duo combined for 43 points and the team got contributions from its role players. In fact, the team’s 1.22 points per possession was its 10th best of the season. It simply came down to a poor match-up. The 7’3″ Matt Haarms had Kamar Baldwin thinking twice every time he attacked the rim and Vincent Edwards was a nightmare for the Bulldogs. Purdue ran its pick-and-roll offense to perfection as Haarms drew a help-side defender into the lane every time, leaving one of Purdue’s many shooters wide open on the perimeter. But all in all, I think Butler fans would consider this season a success.

Justin Kundrat (143 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com


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